Author: Maryam Foroozanfar  
Posted: 30.11.2001; 13:07:44
Topic: Discursive Robinsonades?
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Discursive Robinsonades?

by Michael Baldwin and Philip Pilkington

We took a number of paths towards such terms (and operations) as 'concatenation', 'blurting', 'Going-on', etc. There were no works of language theory, pragmatics, semantics or cognitive psychology that we knew of that used these terms as we did. (In formal logic, 'concatenation' is a simple string of primitive terms, but it is not an expression used in theories of natural language.)

But these paths were not as separated as their differentiation suggests. One of our perceived difficulties lay in finding tools with which to describe our practice from the 'inside'. We were aware of no well-formed resources with which to do our explaining, so we put together as best we could what we found around us. This was not because we were poor researchers, but because published theory provided only moments or glimpses of things that fit with what we wanted to try to describe and with the ways we wanted to describe and explain it. We built it out of bits that might not have been fully formed particles of the theories in which they appeared.

A recurrent difficulty faced by a discursive practice lies in trying to say what it is made of. It seemed presumptuous, for example, to assume that the operational primitives were meaningful at all. They might have to be regarded as meaningless and certainly sub-semantic blurtings into the discourse or practice. Now, such a lack of presumption invoked a lot of 'foundational' stuff from the intuitionism of Brouwer to the constructivism of Hilbert and, in particular, we were attracted to Turing's answer to foundational collapse. An infinitely long tape Going-on.

Another path, given the time and the place, was laid by various Marxist notions of a point of production. But we were not searching for points of production as mere features of a structuralist second-wave Marxism, but as constituents of our everyday experience of others and as the everyday experience of others from which our experience may be excluded. In Coventry, we were acutely aware of the day-to-day struggles of the trade-union movement and its members. These struggles were on our doorstep. The so-called 'broad left' had recently concerned itself with the newly or not-so-newly translated works of non-Stalinist Marxism. Lukacs was of particular interest by virtue of his aesthetic disposition relative to class-consciousness. And in matters of aesthetics, we learned from Kierkegaard that paradox could emerge (or seem to emerge) as an existential problem and not simply as a logical one recognizable to Russell. The paths are (were) crossing and separating: Russell, Kierkegaard, set theory, semantics, Turing machines, etc., etc. To these strange connections and disconnections we added the questions or inquisitive possibilities suggested by that development which followed the publication of the historical work of E.P.Thompson. Grass roots history faced Dilthey and the German ideology.

Our discourse continued, as did our questions concerning the primitive constituents. If there was a primitive, where did it come from? If it has some function regarding other primitives or seems to be implicated in the production of others, then what is it going to be like? These questions were asked against a background of or rather walking in pathways that we've described. These questions were, therefore, not asked in the available philosophical works at this pre-post-structural time. What we had identified was a need for differentiation in Going-on. There was going to be no final position and no descriptive template, only an iterative process. This bothered Atkinson and Kosuth more than they could say.

Robinson Crusoe, regarded by many as the first true novel in English, is a text much maligned by certain critics on the left. It is, however, not a novel that unambiguously extols the virtues of the bourgeois life. (Marx criticized Robinson Crusoe as a celebration of bourgeois individualism. Crusoe survives alone, lives, alone: bourgeois individualists are 'Robinsonades'.) In fact, Crusoe lives off the wreckage of a ship - a 'civilization' which had imprisoned Daniel Defoe, the author. Crusoe touches the everyday experience of others by making use of this wreckage: something transformed/composed of parts which have lost or will lose their original identity, use or appearance.


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